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Identifying Giftedness in Children by Michele Opper, Ph.D.

“My 4-year-old son is very bright and he has been reading since he was three years old. His preschool teacher said he might be “gifted.” How do I know if he is in fact “gifted”? And if he is “gifted, “where do I go from here?”

This is a question I am often asked by parents. Let’s start with defining what it means to be gifted.

Definitions of Giftedness:

*According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), gifted children are “…those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains".

Similarly, New Jersey State Department of Education defines “Gifted and talented students” as follows:

“…those students who possess or demonstrate high levels of ability, in one or more content areas, when compared to their chronological peers in the local school district and who require modifications of their educational program if they are to achieve in accordance with their capabilities.”

Other definitions focus more on both the cognitive and emotional underpinnings of what it means to be gifted:

Columbus Group:

“giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm…”

Annemarie Roeper:

“giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.”

In Summary:

There is no universally accepted definition of giftedness and this concept can vary by culture and context.

What are some of the early signs that my child might be gifted?

Children who are gifted may demonstrate differences in language, learning, and emotionality. Some of the behaviors to look for include:

  • A highly developed vocabulary and the ability to learn new words easily.

  • The tendency to speak quickly.

  • The early use of longer, more complex sentences while using appropriate grammar

  • High intensity and overly perfectionistic.

  • The ability to learn quickly and efficiently - to pick up ideas and skills effortlessly.

  • A tendency to become highly focused on certain areas of interest (e.g., bugs, space, animals) and independently seek out information on these topics.

  • Excellent memory and easy recall of what they previously heard, saw, or learned.

Why is it important to identify giftedness early

  • Leta Hollingworth pointed out that the earlier highly gifted children were identified, the more favorable their development. They can be provided with appropriate stimulation to promote optimal development.

  • Important for young gifted children to have the opportunity to fine true peers- those with similar intellect and interests- so they feel comfortable and don’t withdraw and view themselves as different

  • Fine motor weaknesses are very common among gifted boys, but rarely identified because of their intelligence. Early intervention in the form of occupational therapy before age 7 is likely to prevent problems with handwriting and underachievement

How do I find out if my child is gifted?

The first step in the process is typically an IQ test conducted by a psychologist who has training in working with gifted children.

What should I do if I find out my child is in fact gifted?

In my practice, I provide parents with program options that are available locally for children with gifted potential, as well as resources and recommendations for supplemental supports.


~Michele Opper, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in both New Jersey and New York and a licensed school psychologist as well. She also holds an advanced certificate in school psychology and a bilingual extension (Spanish) in New York. She has been practicing in the field of psychology for approximately eighteen years and recently opened up an office in Waldwick, NJ. Dr. Opper has worked with children of all ages conducting developmental evaluations, kindergarten readiness screenings, and psycho-educational assessments. She developed a niche working with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in addition to school-age children. Dr. Opper specializes in the diagnosis of learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety disorders, ADHD, and behavioral disorders, as well the identification of gifted students.

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